One looked like a president, the other like a state legislator running for president.
The former being Mitt Romney, the latter a clearly flustered Barack Obama.
I’m not surprised that the former Massachusetts governor performed strongly in the first presidential debate – as a supporter of Rick Santorum in the GOP primaries my candidate was vexed by the polished Romney, particularly in what turned out to be the all-important Arizona debate where the Bain Capital executive effectively saved his floundering candidacy.
Romney came off as confident and comfortably commanding facts and figures better than the man who was charged with running the country for the past four years.
The Republican candidate did not speak above the television viewers but described the state of things in a manner people could visualize.
Instead of Gross Domestic Product, Romney talked jobs.
In lieu of rates and percentages, Romney reiterated the number of Americans who were unemployed and seeking work.
Rather than referencing economic indexes, Romney cited the actual increase of people who are on food stamps over the past four years.
Romney did exactly what he needed to do: he told the American people the true state of affairs in the country and then asked them to go in a different direction by replacing the president. The election wasn’t about candidates but national direction.
Romney even worked in some soaring rhetoric of his own eloquently discussing the federal government’s obligation to protect life, liberty and people’s right to pursue happiness sans interference.
And the most important thing, he contrasted how a Romney Administration would differ from another four years of an Obama White House.
The former Massachusetts governor may have turned in the most masterful debate performance by a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.
The best Obama could muster is recycling some of his worn class warfare talking points and to imply that the GOP had some kind of secret plan that they were afraid to share with the American public. The president also made a clumsy attempt to emulate former President Bill Clinton’s math rhetoric from the convention.
The president looked desperate when running behind Clinton’s record (which he had nothing to do with) and petty by mocking Donald Trump by name.
After a slow start, the president did pick up steam when the discussion turned to health care before flaming out towards the end, with body language that shifted between dour facial expressions and smug smirks.
The only thing President Obama forgot to do wrong on Wednesday night was check his watch.
Without control of the line of questioning and sans teleprompter, the president looked out of his element, as if he did not belong on the stage or for that matter the Oval Office.
What the American public saw on Wednesday night was the shock and bewilderment of a man who has not truly been challenged politically since Hillary Clinton ended her presidential bid.
After over four years, someone has finally told the emperor that he has no clothes.
The debate was a game changer.
For many Americans, the face-off was the first time they have actually seen Romney speak and it was a great introduction for Romney to voters who only knew of him from soundbytes and 30 and 60-second television ads, most of them negative.
Romney will likely see some positive movement in the polls but more importantly reap a handsome bounty via internet donations from fired up Republicans excited to see their nominee taking the fight to the president rather than standing there like a tackling dummy (see John McCain, 2008).
And though the debate lacked a defining moment that stood out such as Reagan’s “They’re you go again” line to President Jimmy Carter or the Gipper’s “youth and inexperience” poke at Walter Mondale’s expense, the hit of the night was Romney’s deft counter to President Obama’s decrying of so-called subsidies of the oil industry by citing the billions that have been run to green energy outfits that have been better at supporting the president’s re-election than in actual business .
When prefacing his closing statement, President Obama remarked that he thought “it was a terrific debate” and he was right, though not for him but for his replacement as the instapolls and pro-Obama talking heads soundly gave round one of the presidential debates to Romney.